Historical Black And White Photos That Creep Us Out, Look Closely

If you search online for creepy photos, you’ll find plenty of black and white images that are hoaxes. Many people edit “ghost photos” for the scares. Where are the real ones? If you want real, historical scary photos, you’ve come to the right place.

These pictures are genuine snapshots of the dark sides of history. From old mental asylums to a Parisian cafe from Hell, we’ve gathered the creepiest black and white photos from history.

The Isolator

Yes, this is a real invention from 1925. American inventor Hugo Gernsback created this mask, called “the Isolator,” to increase productivity. The helmet was designed to block out all noise and sensations outside of a person’s work.

Here is a pictured Hugo Gernsbach, wearing what he calls his
Getty Images
Getty Images

Gernsback’s invention never took off, possibly because it looked so horrifying. Believe it or not, some people have recreated the Isolator in modern times. If you want to focus on nothing but your homework, you may be able to buy it somewhere.

Whose Hand Is That?

Shot in 1900, this photo shows female workers of a linen factory in Northern Ireland. These workers made handkerchiefs and other cloth supplies. They stand in line with their arms crossed–nothing abnormal, right?

Here are some happy Ulster girls from a linen factory of North Ireland's chief city.
SeM/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
SeM/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Look closely. The girl in the bottom right-hand corner has a hand on her shoulder. Whose hand is that? There is no one to the right of her to place that hand on her shoulder, and everyone’s arms are crossed. What do you think?

The Man In The Pig Mask

In 2008, photographer David Fenton displayed his photos from the ’60s in the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York. Of all of his pictures, this one became the most famous (or infamous). The mysterious man in the pig mask has captured the imaginations of many people.

An American policeman watches over the crowd as a protestor in a pig mask stands over his shoulder and gives the camera 'the finger.'
David Fenton/Getty Images
David Fenton/Getty Images

The photo was taken on April 5, 1969, during the Central Park Peace March. Protesters of the Vietnam War mocked authorities in various ways. Here, a man in a pig mask snuck up behind an officer for the photo.

Forced Standing

In 1890, a photographer captured this image that revealed the horrible ways people used to treat mental illness. This German woman stands in a narrow cell of a mental asylum. She is undergoing a “treatment” called forced standing, where patients can do nothing but stand.

A woman stands in a narrow cell, her arms affixed to the wall in the attitude of the crucifixion.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It is possible that forced standing exhausted patients enough to make them appear calmer. However, it was incredibly painful. Psychological treatment has greatly improved since then, but these pictures remind us of how patients used to be treated.

Who Wouldn’t Eat Here?

Believe it or not, this was a real (and popular) cafe in Paris during the early 20th century. It was called the Cabaret de l’Enfer, orThe Cabaret of Hell” in English. Antonin Alexander created and ran the cafe from 1892 to 1950.

Customers sit at the Cabaret de l'Enfer in Paris, France.
Wikipedia / Public Domain
Wikipedia / Public Domain

The cabaret was designed to mimic Hell as if customers were walking into Dante’s Inferno. It was incredibly popular with artists and surrealists such as André Breton. Next door, they made The Cabaret of Heaven, which was not as scary.

What’s Happening To His Face?

In the 19th century, Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne had a unique view of neurology. He believed that facial expressions were directly linked to a person’s soul. To prove this, he carried out a series of experiments called The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression.

A psychologist tests the muscles on a man's face.
Wikipedia / Public Domain
Wikipedia / Public Domain

Duchenne used electrical probes to create grotesque facial expressions, which he would then photograph. He analyzed the pictures to discover the “accurate rendering of the soul’s emotions.” Today, we still have pictures of his bizarre experiments.

The Hiroshima Shadows

If you look closely, you’ll see the silhouette of a man with a cane. This shade was once a real man. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. launched an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. People close to the bomb vaporized instantly. The heat from the explosion created outlines of victims.

Human shadow is seen on bank steps in Hiroshima after the explosion of the atom bomb.
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

These outlines, called the Hiroshima Shadows, remained on some surfaces for up to ten years. It shows exactly what people were doing when the bomb when off.

The Black Dahlia

There is something about this photo of Elizabeth Short that has haunted people since it hit the papers almost 100 years ago. In 1947, a family found this woman’s corpse in a Los Angeles neighborhood. The body was cut clean in half, but there was no blood at the scene.

A photo of Elizabeth Short used by the FBI in the Black Dahlia case.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The papers dubbed this the “Black Dahlia case,” after a movie that Short acted in called Black Dahlia. It became the largest search in LAPD history. But to this day, the case is still unsolved.

Halloween Wasn’t Always Fun

In the early 20th century, Halloween costumes were designed to look scary. People believed that by dressing up as monsters and ghouls, ghosts would not bother them. As a result, we have horrifying photos like this one.

In 1905, a teacher wears a Halloween costume.
Historic Photo Archive/Getty Images
Historic Photo Archive/Getty Images

The picture, shot in 1905, likely depicts a school teacher. She wears a terrifying costume while standing behind a lunch table with decorations–pumpkins, haystacks, and cutouts of witches. If you feel like being spooked, google vintage Halloween photos.

Playing With Fire

This frightening image has a legitimate purpose behind it. Back in 1953, experts were testing how quickly clothes would catch on fire. They used this mannequin to bring a dress into contact with an electric bar heater.

John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The results showed that it only took 20 seconds for the outfit to go up in flames. That goodness this isn’t a real person, but the likeness makes it frightful to look at just the same.

A Factory Straight Out Of Nightmares

Dolls can be so inherently creepy that several horror films focus on them. It’s no wonder why this photo from 1947 freaked out some internet users. Here, doll heads in a factory drip as they dry.

Dolls' heads in the doll factory waiting to dry.
Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Merlyn Severn/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During this time, polymer and plastic were melted onto a mold of a doll face. The torso, head, and limbs would be attached later. With this method, dolls could be mass-produced and created far more cheaply than porcelain dolls. But that doesn’t make it any less creepy.

Hundred-Year-Old Plastic Surgery

Did you know that plastic surgery arose because of World War I? Because of the new technology, soldiers experienced facial wounds like never before. To help men eat, talk, and drink again, surgeon Harold Gillies developed sculptures of veterans’ faces.

Face plates and attachments in various stages of completion of world war i facial surgery.
Robert Hunt Library/Windmill books/UIG via Getty images
Robert Hunt Library/Windmill books/UIG via Getty images

These sculptures replicated a veteran’s face. The photo shows several faceplates used throughout the stages of surgery. Gillies developed the first facial reconstruction surgery, and he would later create the first gender reassignment surgery.

The Afterlife Boy

At first glance, it looks like an officer and a boy are alert to a potential threat on the other side of the wall. In actuality, the man is observing the 12-year-old boy who believes he comes into contact with the afterlife every night.

James Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images
James Andanson/Sygma via Getty Images

Remember when your parents would check the monsters in your closet before bed? This is similar, only the child, Dominique Perrot, genuinely believes there’s something there. It’s like the real-life version of The Sixth Sense.

A Foggy Graveyard

For some, cemeteries are peaceful places where you can visit lost loved ones. For others, the mere thought sends a shiver down their spine. This image explains the latter. The gravestones were lined along St. John the Baptist’s Church in the UK city Stoke-on-Trent.

Heritage Images/Getty Images
Heritage Images/Getty Images

The headstones are eerily close to one another and look especially menacing surrounded by thick fog. Even creepier is that the church and memorial stones were demolished in 1979.

The UFO Sighting

This photo shows four UFOs flying over Salem, Massachusetts at 9:35 in the morning on July 15, 1952. The eerie image shows four glowing spots in the sky that at the time would have been extra terrifying to see.

Shell R. Alpert/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Shell R. Alpert/Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Considering how far we’ve come in technology, many of us would see any image like this and assume there’s an explanation. But back before the days where the internet held all the answers, people would be more likely to jump to assuming aliens were in the sky.

Not A Suit You See Every Day

These men in a line look like aliens in their unusual suits. There’s something creepy about a person who is unidentifiable. It’s almost like it makes them seem less human, especially in those massive gloves.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

In actuality, these are models at a factory where the suits are made. The outfits are specially designed for use by the Royal Navy. They are referred to as asbestos fire fighting suits. The reason they look heavy duty is because they are!

Listening To The Radio

This image shows just how far we’ve come in terms of technology. This massive contraption to the left is a radio from the ’20s. The man to the right is listening in with a focused look on his face that makes him look a bit insane.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

That circular item on the radio is none other than a lamp that casts light into the mirror and creates a shadowy effect. If the photography was trying to capture creepiness, they did a great job.

Another Odd Vogue Session

If you’ve ever wondered why fashion models look so serious, perhaps its because horror used to be all the rage in modeling. Here is yet another Vogue photoshoot that went creepy.

vogue
Edward Steichen/Condé Nast via Getty Images
Edward Steichen/Condé Nast via Getty Images

The model is Marion Morehouse and she’s posing in a two-piece outfit that would have been extremely stylish at the time. Too bad she won’t get to show it off in real life because a stalker behind the tree is about to sneak out.

The Mysterious Hooded Man

This image is from Bologna, 1978, but that’s all we know. We would guess that the photo was an ad for a horror film, but your guess is as good as ours. Just imagine if this were a candid!

Romano Cagnoni/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Romano Cagnoni/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The thing that makes this image especially creepy isn’t the hooded man, but the expression on the passing man’s face. He looks so disturbed that we have to wonder what’s on the other side of the mysterious hood.

Lobster Tease

This image shows a man messing with a boy by holding him over a lobster. While the joke is innocent enough, there’s something sinister about the smiling man in contrast to the concerned look on the boy’s face.

Grace Robertson/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Grace Robertson/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Both fellas are actors on the set of the 1952 film Hunted. Fitting to the name, this still is from one of the movie’s scenes. At that time, boys were taught some interesting rules regarding “toughness.”

Exorcising A Haunted Attic

In 1979, stories about a farm in France began making international headlines. The farm, in a village called Seron, was supposedly haunted. Mysterious fires started breaking out, and things got so bad that the family enlisted the help of exorcists.

La famille Lahore et sa 'ferme hantée' en 1979
Gilles BOUQUILLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Gilles BOUQUILLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Here, we see the exorcism in progress. It was not successful, because in the end, it turned out that two people in the family were setting all the fires. The photo is still just as creepy, though.

Clowns Are Even Scarier In Black And White

People have been terrorized by clowns for decades, and this vintage photo is early proof of that. This scene took place at a children’s hospital in the 1930s. “Young Bernaby Flick appears [traumatized] by the experience of riding miniature horse ‘Kneehi’ during a visit by the circus,” reads the caption.

Scared Stiff
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The costumed visitors, Cinderella and a smirking clown, are not helping the situation. A little boy in the foreground appears equally terrified.

Surrounded By Wax Heads

Are these apparently disembodied heads real? Or are they fake? After a closer look, it’s evident that they’re not real but that’s not exactly reassuring.

L. E. Cates Surrounded by Wax Heads
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

The one live human being in the photo is a wax artist named L. E. Case, who was famous for making startlingly realistic reproductions of people. Case is surrounded by some of his masterpieces, many of which were made for a Los Angeles-based movie producer.